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Walton Was One of Richest Americans

April 06, 1992|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He started with a nickel-and-dime business, but when Sam M. Walton was done he had built one of the nation's great family fortunes--estimated at more than $23 billion.

Walton, who died Sunday after a long battle with bone cancer, turned a struggling five-and-dime operation into a discount retail giant. Along the way, he made himself, his family and hundreds of employees wealthy.

Forbes magazine has estimated the Walton fortune, based on 39% ownership of Wal-Mart Stores, at seven times the holdings of the Rockefeller family. Walton and his four children each own stock worth about $4.6 billion.

Only two other individuals, Forbes estimated, are as wealthy: John W. Kluge, chairman of Metromedia, $5.8 billion; and William H. Gates III, chairman of Microsoft Corp., $4.8 billion.

Walton's brother and partner, James L. Walton, is also a billionaire. His 20.4 million shares of Wal-Mart are worth an estimated $1.05 billion. James Walton also sits on the Wal-Mart board of directors and is senior vice president.

Walton established for himself and his wife, Helen, 71, and their four adult children five trusts that contain more than 440 million Wal-Mart shares. The billionaire's death will not trigger a sale of the family's stock, said S. Robson Walton, eldest of the Walton children. He also said that Wal-Mart's corporate strategy and direction will not change as a result of his father's death.

Walton's children have shown various degrees of interest in the family business:

* Robson Walton, 47, is a Wal-Mart vice chairman and sits on the board of directors. He is also a partner in an Oklahoma law firm.

* John T. Walton, 46, of San Diego, is a boat builder and member of Walton Enterprises, a family holding company.

* Jim C. Walton, 43, heads Walton Enterprises and the family's banking and real estate interests.

* Alice L. Walton, 42, owns an investment company.

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